Varkala, Alleppy 28 Dec 2010 to 13 Jan 2011

The bus finally arrives and its an air con. That means more expensive, comfortable seats but cold. I've craftily packed a sweatshirt for precisely this eventuality. Personally I hate air conditioning, but what's worse is that a lot of people think that if a little air con is good, lots is wonderful. I find it perverse that we pay to freeze in a hot country.

Ghee candles on temple wall

Its dark by the time we get to Varkala, I'm tired, and a man immediately accosts me and asks if I want a room for Rs300. Decide his room is fine, especially as it has solar heated showers. Pay for the first night. The subsequent days he tells me I can just pay when I'm leaving. Hmmm after the Joseph fiasco shouldn't I be paying daily, getting receipts, and demanding to see my payments marked in the book?

The colour of the guru is yellow 1600 x 1200

However the manager/owner projects a serious aura of serenity and honesty. He does however get excited when I say I might visit Amma, and that he knows her personally. Maybe he does. I've never accused myself of being a good judge of character, but decide this guy is not going to cheat me, and I'm not going to let Joseph define my interaction with mostly honest Indians. And indeed when I leave there are no issues.

Guess what you can buy on this stand? 1200 x 1600

Quickly discover I'm actually on the beach road to the second beach, and its a 10 minute walk along 2 beaches to get to the real Varkala up on the cliff face. What a disaster and I resolve to move. After a short while I end up deciding I've done quite well being away from the Cliff face.

The mobile phone shop in Kovalam hasn't properly resubmitted the copy of my passport, and my phone no longer connects. A young lad Ros takes a shine to me, and takes me into Varkala town to visit the Airtel offices directly get it sorted. More passport copies and they say my phone will work in 2 days. It does!

New adventures in fast food: deep fried chilis 1600 x 1200

Varkala is a temple town. Some politically active revered guru Sri Giri died, and right now is an anniversary of something (birth, death, enlightenment, election?) so everybody wears yellow his colour to revere him. There's a temple at the center with lots of stalls selling everything including Indian fast food: deep fried battered chilis. Could this take over from deep fried mars bars in Scotland?

Varkala beach police station 1600 x 1200

There's an actual police station on the smaller beach. Now the Indian authorities can be very sensitive about foreigners photographing military installations like steam engines, train stations, coast guard boats etc. So I'm very careful taking this police station picture.

Its New Year's Eve, and Varkala is supposed to be a party town. I've met a few people but they all say they're staying well away from the tourist ghetto on the cliff face. I'm made of sterner stuff, and decide to go anyway. By 22:30 I've given up. Lots of people, mainly couples sitting stodgily at their tables in the various cliff cafes, nursing their beers, looking bored, waiting for midnight, and rather understandably doing their best to ignore the entertainment: Indian live music. Decide I'd rather just read a book in my room.

But at 23:45 decide I should make an effort, its only a few minutes walk to the South beach. There's about 2000 Indians, and 20 Westerners. The Indians are mad and irresponsible with fireworks over which health & safety would have a fit over back in the West. A few times I actually feel the percussion blast from fireworks set off way too close to me. All in all; great fun!

Then its midnight, and everybody wants to shake my hand, and know my good name. All in all its a lot more fun, but exhausting and I have to dive into one of the restaurants and have a beer to get away from all the well wishers.

Ros' house with his wife, sister & mother 1600 x 1200

New Year's Day there's quite a heavy surf on the beach at Varkala people drown every year. Lots of boats are taking people for short trips out through the surf, and its malicious good fun to watch a boat get the return wrong, get swamped, and then turned upside down in the waves. Pity I didn't have a camera ready. Hope their good mechanics, because outboard engines don't appreciate a dunk in salt water.

The Karalan home cooked banquet 1600 x 1200

The kitchen in Ros' house 1600 x 1200

Ros suggests I come to his house for lunch which sounds great. Its always exciting to be invited to a real local's home. I arrive and find that his wife, sister and mother have spent 4 hours preparing for my feast: a traditional Kerala thali with about 8 different dishes served on a banana leaf. But not only are the women not eating with me, even Ros is just a spectator.

It's like being in a restaurant with 3 waitresses and a head waiter. Plus of course Ros' daughter, and 2 neighbours and assorted children. Watching me eat is obviously a fascinating spectacle. Must be, electricity isn't connected so no TV.

The next day I tell two Swiss women Malaika & Marie-France about the experience, and Ros is enthusiastic to have them out for dinner next day. This time the meal is even more elaborate. They refuse all money but Malaika manages to slip Rs1000 to the mother. You would easily pay more than Rs250 per persom in a restaurant, if you could get even get such homecooking.

My new guru (based on beard length)

As part of the Sri Giri festival Hindu priests are giving puja; some form of blessing, on the beach. I get chatting to this priest before even realising he was one. If the beard makes the guru this guy must be hot!

Malaika & Marie-France have hired a taxi up to Alleppy, and I decide to tag along. Its got to be more comfortable than the bus. It is except on the ears. This driver seems to have a serious horn fetish. He uses it every 10 seconds.

Alleppy is the first real Indian town I've been to since Trivandrum. Tourists are just another source of income, rather than the reason the town was built in the first place. We decide to go on a 3 hour backwaters canoe tour the next day.

Funnly little boats; backwaters 1600 x 1200

The backwaters are a string of inland waterways between Alleppy and Kollam. They range from trunks 100m wide to 2m creeks which only the canoes can fit along. Whole villages and communities live alongside the creeks and larger waterways. The water is a transport system for everything, even with regular public transport. A bit like Venice; in water quality at least. I suggest to our two elderly canoe paddlers that I help out as there's a third paddle.

A crack platoon of bug eating ducks 1600 x 1200

They sign sure, and wait for the amusement of watching somebody try paddling for the first time. This situation probably happens a lot, especially when a guy is trying to impress two female passengers. So they're surprised but pleased when it turns out I do know how to paddle. Malaika is less pleased and says I rock the boat too much. Story of my life

The rice paddies out on the backwaters are infested with ducks. I've seen the same back in Europe. The ducks can swim along a flooded paddy, eating all the bugs that attack the rice & other plants in place of insecticide.

Cooking the sorted shellfish 1600 x 1200

Sorting shellfish; backwaters village 1600 x 1200

I stay awhile in Alleppy. I've staying in a tree house which is every boy's dream, and trying to get the first edition of this blog out. The funny thing about staying in a non touristy town is there's little to photograph, or blog about.

In fact you're reduced to writing sentences like this to fill the space between the pictures.

2011-02-18 13:45:07 Mary Ann

Hi I am thoroughly enjoying your adventures. The pictures are fab and your blog is so well done. One thing that caught my attention was the lovely dinner that you had in Ros home. Himself and I had a similar experience in Istanbul when invited to a friends house for dinner. There was a feast on the table and the whole family watched us eat. They only ate the first course soup. It was unnerving for me. You look great and I am so happy to see you living your dreams. Love, light and big hugs, Frau Fruit
2011-02-20 23:56:51 Rahul

Did u know that Aleppey is also knows as the Venice of the east. Hope u tried the House boats...
2011-03-19 13:25:07 Rahul
2011-03-19 22:29:20 Agnieszka

Hi, glad to see that the comments are finally working. Holding my breath for more of the blog :-) Have you found out what were you looking for yet? Keep in touch
2011-05-04 04:20:24 Bubi

I'm not easily impressed. . . but that's impressnig me! :)

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